In the early hours of Thursday morning news emerged of the passing away of former Manchester United coach Eric Harrison at the age of 81.
Tributes have been paid to the former United youth coach from supporters, managers and players that he has coached. When Sir Alex Ferguson was asked about his former youth coach, he stated:
Eric’s contribution to football, and not just at Manchester United, was incredible.
Many of his former players also paid tribute to Harrison. With 1992 FA Youth Cup final captain Gary Neville posting on Instagram.
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We’ve lost our mentor , our coach and the man who made us. He taught us how to play , how to never give up , how important it was to win your individual battles and what we needed to do to play for Manchester United Football Club. He was always watching and always with us everytime we played . More importantly he made us understand how to work hard and respect each other and not just on the pitch. We won’t forget the life lessons he gave us. Eric we love you and owe you everything. ❤ Gary, Phil, Ryan, Paul, Nicky and David.
Harrison arrived in Manchester from Everton back in 1981 after being hired by Ron Atkinson who was in charge at Old Trafford at the time. Despite Atkinson being sacked in 1986, his replacement Sir Alex Ferguson decided to keep him on as a youth coach.
You can’t win anything with kids. – Alan Hansen
At the time Sir Alex was displeased with the number of players coming through the ranks at Old Trafford and called a meeting with Harrison to discuss improvements. Harrison made a deal with Sir Alex, if he provided him with “better quality players” he would “get more youngsters in the first team”.
As a result, Ferguson increased United’s scouting network and Harrison produced a side who would win the 1992 FA Youth Cup. Consisting of players such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Phil Neville, David Beckham, and Nicky Butt.
Their success earned the players recognition and they received the title of the “Class of 92”. They were also later referred to as “Fergie’s Fledglings”.
Fergie brought these six players into the first team during the 95/96 season and started off poorly after suffering a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa. Leading to pundit Alan Hansen’s famous quote:
You can’t win anything with kids
However, Sir Alex’s young side persevered, overturning a 10-point gap between themselves and league leaders Newcastle United. Ultimately bringing the league title to Old Trafford for the third time in four years. Followed shortly after by a 1-0 victory over rivals Liverpool at Wembley to secure the double.
Fergie’s side continued to enjoy success and victory. In 1999 they made history, becoming the first English club to win the treble after a dramatic Champions League victory in Barcelona.
Eric Harrison’s impact not just for Manchester United but for football is a result of his no-nonsense approach to coaching. He once reminisced of a Saturday morning when his wife remarked after watching one of his training sessions:
You’re a disgrace…the way you treat those kids
This was the approach which provided Sir Alex and United with one of their greatest squads. Eric Harrison was the unsung hero behind United’s greatest ever achievement.